The Circle (2017) is too square to spark excitement or thought
The story doesn't too sound too far-fetched when we consider how social media and the internet is used every day from building brands off our personal adventures, to sharing parts of our private lives with strangers to acting as warriors for certain issues. Adapted from the novel by Dave Eggers, The Circle could certainly ask a lot of interesting questions about technology and how we use it, or it may be used against us, but fails to make a convincing, even entertaining case about the line between transparency and privacy.
At first, Mae's connection to the Circle seems safe enough. As a customer service rep, she has to keep her numbers high, even though her work ethic is monitored by all of her co-workers. And then the Circle's campaigns start pushing invasive agendas like streaming their user's lives 24/7 and inciting witch hunts using GPS and smartphones. No one really knows what it's like to live on their own as we're all connected like a cult with no escape. But instead of pushing the promising thriller of the book, Mae's descent comes across as TEDX talk on QVC.
In part, it's difficult to separate Emma Watson's conscientious, notoriously private reputation from the character. She hits a fair stride in the beginning when Mae isn't fully convinced in what the company has to offer, finding their "voluntary" participation laughable and crazy. But when Mae's increasingly comforted by her millions of followers, the story doesn't know what to do with her motivations. At one moment, she expresses that her biggest fear is unfulfilled potential, but her ascent to the top and trying to make the Circle better, thus a more dangerous Big Brother, doesn't feel layered or motivated by any deep drive.
Unfortunately, the script doesn't set up anyone or anything to stand in Mae's way. As creators of the Circle, Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt are pretty much Steve Jobs stand-ins, making the rounds every half hour to pitch a flashy idea that benefits the greater good but robs people of their individual identity. They aren't treated nearly as bad as other actors: Mae's parents, played by the late Bill Paxton and Glenne Headley, offers emotional stability outside of her work life, but Karen Gilliam as Mae's workaholic best friend is nowhere to be seen. The ever charismatic John Boyega has huge ties to overthrowing the Circle that could've easily upped the ante (as would Gilliam) but is so underused, it's embarrassing. Almost all of her connections could offer tension because they're similar or contrast what she's doing with the Circle, but none of them are used to their advantage.
When a book is adapted to the big screen, it's expected for characters and scenes to be left on the cutting room floor. What's not typically expected is that the adaptation goes out of its way to stay neutral on an issue that could have hard, defined lines. The stakes never effectively rise despite a number of people affected by the Circle through Mae, so the whole movie comes across as a long episode of Big Brother.
The Circle comes across as a day-in-the-life movie, going through the motions of its heroine risking autonomy to be loved, if even that. The story tries to illuminate the lack of divide between reality and what we portray online but fails to incite drama or excitement. Instead of a thought-provoking Orwellian thriller, the movie is so square, our real world is scary enough on its own.
Have you seen The Circle? What do you think?